South African raisin industry gears up for growth

Ferdie Botha (Right), Raisins South Africa (RSA) Chief Executive, with Stefan Jordaan, Also of RSA, on the Kobus Luttig Farm (Duineveld)

09 Mar 2020 | Article published in IEG VU Agribusiness
By Julian Gale | @JulianFoodNews | julian.gale@ihsmarkit.com
South African raisin industry gears up for growth
The South African raisin industry celebrated its 100th anniversary in the Orange River area in 2019 and is poised for significant expansion in the years ahead.

Ferdie Botha, chief executive of Raisins South Africa (RSA, previously called Dried Fruit Technical Services), recalled that production in 2019 was estimated at a record 74,830 tonnes from a total planted area of 13,085 hectares across the northern and western capes.

Production this year was originally expected to reach 81,000 tonnes but this will now have to be revised downwards as a result of recent rains. Even so, the volume will remain at decent levels, meaning a second consecutive year of high production.

The country currently ranks as the world’s fifth-largest raisins producer.

RSA’s expansion plans include boosting sales to the UK market and this was detailed during a trade visit last week to key raisin producers and processors, predominantly in the Upington area. The visit comprised trade journalists from the UK and Germany and UK distributors.

Botha explained that Dried Fruit Technical Services (DFTS) was established in 1997 by dried fruit growers in the wake of market deregulation in the late 1990s. Growers were concerned that certain functions previously carried out by the Dried Fruit Board would adversely impact the industry, due to institutional failures. “The question arose ‘who will represent the dried fruit grower?”, Botha noted.

This led to the creation of the growers’ institution DFTS (now RSA) to fill this void.

In 2002, a statutory levy was introduced to fund industry activities.

RSA is a non-profit company that performs relevant research and development work on behalf of the industry, and maintains technical operating information and its member database. RSA also handles the administration of the statutory levy on behalf of the National Marketing Council of South Africa and applies it accordingly in the interests of its growers.

“This mouthpiece of a new and transformed industry, in collaboration with government and other relevant stakeholders, plays a key role in advancing our growers’ interests,” Botha observed.

RSA’s strategy is centred on the long-term sustainability of the South African raisin industry, with a focus on value creation for all of its stakeholders.

One of the key messages is that South African raisins are a healthy, sun-dried snack alternative with more concentrated nutritional value than fresh fruit and a much longer shelf life. South Africa benefits from a lot of sunlight and very warm weather which means that a premium quality raisin can be produced with minimal to zero traces of chemical residues. The country’s raisins are known for their excellent quality and food safety is a priority.

The South African industry has grown strongly and new expansions and recapitalisation initiatives are ongoing to further expand its supply base.

Annual raisin production is around 70,000 dried tonnes (and growing) and there are about 1,000 growers in total. Processing facilities are described as being “world class” and 85% of all product is exported.

A 2019 vine census showed that seedless sultanas account for an estimated 34% of total cultivars. Merbein seedless raisins are at 41%; Selma Pete 9%; Sugra 39 and currants at 4% each; and Flame seedless 3%.

The Selma Pete variety is known for being the most resistant to rainfall.

Sundowner, a new cultivar, was introduced last year. Research is under way on additional new varieties.

Dry on the vine accounts for around 1% of production.

Production of fresh grapes averages 30-35 tonnes per hectare on the new varieties, up from 20-25 tonnes/ha on the old varieties.

Thompson raisins are expected to account for 62% of production this year, with sultanas slightly higher than normal at 4%.

In addition to the UK, other important European destinations with good potential for further growth include Germany, the Netherlands and France. Sales are also made into eastern Europe.

Other export markets include China, Japan, India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the US, Mexico, Peru, Brazil and Colombia.

In percentage terms, the UK accounts for 7% of total exports while the EU collectively takes 49%. Canada and the US is at 12%; Russia 12%; Africa 9%; Middle East 2%; and the Far East 2%.